The 21st century brings a constantly expanding number of ways in which people around the world can access high quality American higher education. For example, more than 90 percent of all accredited U.S. colleges and universities with 10,000 or more students now offer distance education programs, where the students and instructor are not in the same place. With so many options, it can be difficult to find just the right distance learning program for your specific needs. It can also be a challenge to determine which options are legitimate.
Beware! Not all colleges, universities, and distance learning programs advertised online are accredited by one of the regional or national accrediting associations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. When researching colleges and universities in the United States for both online and in-person studies, your first step should always be to verify accreditation. To check if a school is accredited by a recognized U.S. accrediting organization, go to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education website and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. For more information on accreditation, visiting our Finding the Right School page.
Beyond accreditation, there are many key questions that you will want to ask about a distance learning program, including method of delivery, cost, type of program, and if there are any residency requirements. International students taking full-time online programs are not eligible for a U.S. student visa. If short term attendance is required in the United States, then a student visit is required. EducationUSA’s helpful guide If You Want to Study in the United States (PDF 1 MB) earmarks a chapter for important information on Distance Education. Private resources such as Peterson’s and Get Educated can also be useful. Finally, Dr. Amy Kirle Lezberg, an accreditation expert, gives some tips in her article, “What To Know Before Enrolling in Distance Education.” ©
What program are you thinking of enrolling in?
- Are there any residency requirements?
- What other institutions offer similar programs and do they grant the same credential for similar work?
- How does the variety of courses offered compare with similar on-site programs?
- How are course materials made available to students?
- What arrangements have been made for me to complete any required laboratory requirements?
Who designs, delivers and monitors the program?
- Who designs and delivers the program (and if they are different, how is the delivery controlled)?
- Where can the qualifications and current professional activity of the faculty be found in writing?
- What arrangements are made to ensure faculty-student and student-student interaction?
Other expectations of the institution and available student services?
- What academic, linguistic, and technical skills does the institution require for students enrolling in this program?
- What equipment must I have access to and how will the institution help me in any problems that arise concerning the interface between my equipment and their offerings?
- What counseling, career, financial aid, or other non-classroom services are provided for distance education students?
- Is there a student handbook for distance education students? If not, where are these issues addressed?
- What is the process for filing complaints?
- What is the institution’s refund policy if I should have to withdraw from this program?
Final check on the integrity of the degree.
- How can I assure outsiders that the degree represents an assessment of my work rather than that of someone else?
- Where is there official representation of faculty qualifications, the program’s course sequence and requirements, the nature of student/faculty interaction and assumptions about technical skills?
- Double check that the university is accredited. And, just as importantly, is the accreditation body recognized by the Department of Education as a legitimate accrediting body?